Wanting equity as a secondary

My sweetheart J and I are long distance, I am married with kids, we have been together 13 years, and are poly. J has a girlfriend of 2.5 years, both previously monogamous. 

Him and I were friends and in love, and even actually lovers on and off, for years in early adulthood, went separate ways, and reconnected a year ago. J asked his girlfriend to open their relationship about three months later, and we have been dating since then.

She asked him not to text or communicate with me when they are together and he agreed. Initially I was fine with this because they typically spend three nights a week together, and on a schedule. But two things are making it harder for me, and I’m not sure what to ask for.

1. He has agreed to respond right away whenever she texts him when him and I are together, and to keep morning and goodnight texts. I feel like it’s kind of unfair for J to be super attentive to his phone even when him are I are talking or having sex or whatever when we only see each other for a few days every two to three months, but that he can’t text with me even if she is asleep when they see each other.

2. They are starting to spend more time together and not follow the schedule they had previously been using. I feel like I don’t know when I can text or not, or call, and that I reach out at times that traditionally he has been available and still get the “oh sorry I am at ****s house tonight, but let’s talk soon”. I have felt very little jealousy and plenty of compersion but getting this response more and more often lately is starting to sting.

Why am I more available with my two little children and nesting partner than he is!?!?! I know why. But what should I do?

On a very basic level, you want equity in agreements with your partner and their partner, which is something that makes sense. There isn’t equity here. When opening a relationship is new, I can understand wanting to prioritise comforting your partner over new dates. And I feel like you would be understanding of that sacrifice… if you knew if it was ever going to end.

To make matters worse, he seems to have less and less time for you and so that leads you to feeling frustrated and angry. This, to me, is a classic example of when jealousy is warranted and understandable. Who wouldn’t feel jealous or nervous by this?

The answer sounds simple, but it’s not going to be emotionally easy. You need to ask for what you want and set a timeframe in your head of how long you’re going to be willing to put up with this lack of fairness. What you want is very simple — the same rules to apply when you are with him as they apply when she is with him. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. This may mean that he has to manage his other relationship in a different way and this may cause his partner some anxiety — but this isn’t your relationship to manage.

Secondly, on both sides there needs to be a little bit more grace around the first rule. I get that the general feeling of the rule is “when I’m with a partner, I’m focused on us”. That’s totally understandable. Even friendships are like that. Who wants to be out eating dinner with a friend while they’re looking at their phone and chatting with someone the entire time? No one. I feel like this is basic politeness and it doesn’t have to be so strict.

So yes, the same rules apply, but the consequences of this need to be more lax. It doesn’t need to be a huge deal if you call and he’s with her and can’t come to the phone. Likewise, it doesn’t need to be a huge deal if she calls when he’s with you. The problem here is that there is this big looming rule and he is rushing to communicate with her because there are consequences for this rule with her. And the result is that everyone is walking on eggshells. 

What this comes down to in some ways is his own ability to communicate his needs. Right now, it kind of seems like J’s girlfriend is deciding the frequency of his communication, not J himself. Though maybe he does prefer to ignore you and immediately respond to her — asking for what you want will certainly help you figure that out. But regardless, J — if he wants to stay with you — needs to have better boundaries with himself. He needs to focus on you when you are together and there needs to not be such a huge cloud over either parties contacting each other. 

Last but not least, I realise having children may make this very difficult, but you all should have some designated time with another that can only be cancelled in emergencies. Whether it’s a designated time physically together or an online hangout — doesn’t matter! You need some designated time together. So plan that and decide that together.

If he is unwilling to provide you with the same focus he does to other partners and is willing to yield his control over his own life to someone else, then ask yourself if that is someone you want to be partners with. He may struggle in dealing with the anxiety of his girlfriend and he may be doing this to try and appease the situation, but anxiety is, in my experience, not something that tends to back down the more space you give it. You give anxiety an inch and it takes a mile. If his girlfriend is struggling with non-monogamy, then they may need to see a counsellor, but you shouldn’t necessarily have to experience a lack of equity due to that — and certainly not for an undefined period of time. I can see a compromise being made if these were the terms of engagement for the first 6 months of your relationship, but as I said before, with the second point you made, it’s clearly getting worse. Not better.

So, what you should do is stand up for what you want. You risk losing this relationship in doing so, but over time this will become increasingly less satisfying for you, it sounds like. And that’s likely to cause it to end anyway. At least if you ask directly for what you want, it can end hopefully not in an argument born out of the frustration of not getting what you need.

I hope this helps and good luck!